House committee chair refers Crandall Canyon investigation findings to justice department
On May 8, a United States House of Representatives committee released the results of the investigation into the Crandall Canyon coal mining disaster.
Chair George Miller presented the findings to the U.S. Committee on Education and Labor as well as the nation via press conference.
According to Rep. Miller, the investigation's conclusion warranted a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice pertaining to the submission and approval of mining operations in Crandall's south barrier.
"Our committee along with engineering experts working as consultants to the committee has investigated the circumstances leading up to the Crandall tragedy to find out what went wrong so we can prevent it from happening again," said Miller via the national press conference. "Based on our experts' analys, I am able to conclude that it was likely that the tragedy was the result of a flawed plan for conducting retreat mining in the area of the mine where the deaths occurred."
"Therefore, also based on this analysis, I am able to conclude that the plan should never have been submitted by the mine operator and should never have been approved by the United States Mining Safety and Health Administration," indicated the California representative.
Crandall Canyon is owned and operated by UtahAmerican Energy, a subsidiary of Murray Energy Inc. The coal company's chief executive is Robert Murray.
Murray Energy responded to Miller's press conference and portable file document through the company's attorney, Kevin N. Anderson.
"In his zeal to create a political sensation before the completion of the official investigation being conducted by the federal mine safety and health administration, Rep. George Miller held a press conference today (May 8) to disclose his unfounded conclusions from his effort to concoct a criminal referral concerning the tragedy that occurred at the Crandall Canyon mine last August," said Anderson via the press release. "As with many of his prior statements, there is no credible basis for Mr. Miller's reckless allegations. They are merely political grandstanding as he continues to play to his constituents. We are confident that any impartial investigator will reject Mr. Miller's allegations."
Miller sent a letter last month to the justice department recommending a criminal investigation into the actions of Layne W. Adair, the general manager at Crandall Canyon mine.
The coal company's attorney claimed Miller's inference was based on an incomplete review of the facts and ignored contradictory records and prior investigators' findings.
Miller later addressed the department of justice referral.
"Based upon the work of our committee staff, I was concerned that the mine operator may have willfully mislead MSHA about information that could have affected that administration's decision to approve the mining plans in the south barrier," said Miller. "As a result, I have made a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice."
The portable file document released by the committee chairman highlights additional details related to the committee staff's investigation and subsequent referral.
"Last month, I sent a criminal referral to the department of justice, recommending that it investigate whether the mine's general manager, Laine W. Adair, individually or in conspiracy with others, willfully concealed or covered a material fact or made materially false representations in a matter under the jurisdiction of the executive branch, specifically MSHA," stated Miller.
The committee chair's referral is centered around a mine bounce that occurred in March 2007 that was not properly reported to MSHA officials.
According to the information outlined in the document provided by Miller, during the mining of the western part of the Crandall Canyon, access to the area could be gained through main west.
Main west was, in effect, a large corridor of pillars of coal.
The main west corridor received structural support from the north and south barriers on either side of the area in question in the Crandall Canyon mine.
It is Miller's contention, in conjunction with professional engineering consultant firm Norwest Corporation, that Crandall executives (formerly Genwal) must have made assumptions about the condition of the pillars in main west because that area of the mine was sealed in 2004.
Norwest concluded that the roof plan probably would have been sufficient and would not have led to the fatal Aug. 6, 2007, bounce had the pillars in main west been in good condition.
Norwest further concluded that the likely explanation for the Aug. 6, 2007 failure is that the pillars in the main west had been degraded since the time that they were created and were not sufficiently strong to safely support the load created when the barrier pillars were mined, pointed out the U.S. House committee's portable file document.
"The significant bump in March (2007) in the north barrier was a red flag indicating that main west was unable to support the loads it was asked to support. Had main west been in acceptable shape, there would not have been the significant bumping in the north barrier. That is, the likely explanation for a significant March bump is that the pillars in main west were degraded and the roof control plan was faulty," stated Miller in the portable file document .
"Even without the March bump, however, Genwal and MSHA should have been skeptical about the condition of the pillars in main west," continued the portable file document. "An ex ante analysis would have led Genwal and MSHA to believe that pillars in main west could have been degraded. And the U.S. Bureau of Land management had noted some deterioration in the pillars before main west was sealed in 2004. If the mine operators and MSHA officials had assumed that the main west pillars were degraded, the plan (aggressive even with perfect pillars) would have been unacceptable."
Anderson, acting on behalf of Murray Energy, came out in further support of Adair amid Miller's allegations.
"Laine Adair is an honest and plain-speaking man whose integrity and professionalism are well-established in the Utah mining community where he has worked for over 30 years. Genwal Resources stands behind Mr. Adair, and we believe Mr. Miller's efforts to impugn Mr. Adair and other individuals through today's announcement is deplorable," stated Anderson."
Miller qualified the allegations cited in the portable file document with a statement regarding the workers who go underground to produce America's energy.
Nine coal miners were killed during the disaster and rescue effort at Crandall Canyon.
"Nine months later six men remain entombed in the south barrier mine somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 thousand feet underground. Three courageous rescuers who attempted to reach them also died in that rescue attempt. These men perform dangerous work that we depend upon to power our homes, our businesses and our economy," said Miller.
Last August, Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Alonso Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manual Sanchez were entombed in the initial pillar burst which registered 3.9 on the Richter scale.
Dale Black, Gary Jensen and Brandon Kimber were subsequently killed while attempting to rescue the six miners trapped in the underground shafts at Crandall Canyon.